Spring is a season of renewal, and this Spring, fresh off a 2022 that saw Wabtec’s freight sales – locomotives, parts, and mods – increase 17 percent, it’s also one of opportunity and growth across the company and at Erie. For example, since 2019 we’ve recalled 245 past employees and hired 240 new ones in Erie to meet demand. And we still have positions to fill.
Erie’s vitality is showing, and it’s rooted in the skill and versatility of its union workers and non-union staff. A perfect example of this one-two punch is the FLXdrive™ battery-electric locomotive, an innovation developed by Erie engineers, with prototypes being built today by Erie union employees.
But Erie’s success depends on more than what happens within its own four walls. Wabtec professionals around the world are bringing in the business – whether the KTZ MoU for 150 FLXdrive Shunters, the Egyptian National Railways order for 100 Evolution Series locomotives, or the NYMTA order for 25 hybrid diesel-electric transit trains – that is driving demand at Erie. Put another way, sometimes Erie takes the lead, sometimes Erie takes the handoff. Either way, as One Wabtec we win together.
With Opportunity Comes Responsibility
The skills required to build both freight locomotives and transit cars, manufacture battery-electric locomotives and perform mods, are diverse and dynamic. Erie is rising to this challenge, embracing flexibility as a core competency and differentiating workforce skill. Workers need to remain open to change, so Erie can remain a key fulfillment hub for a variety of global orders. In turn, Wabtec as a company must provide training to help Erie shop-floor employees manage this change and excel at it.
Erie’s flexibility is key to maintaining its competitive edge – and so are its costs. Manufacturing excellence alone won’t keep Erie in the driver’s seat. That means embracing Lean principles to innovate, work more efficiently, and reduce waste. It also means paying workers fairly, including benefits – commensurate with performance and in line with local wages and industry norms – while ensuring Wabtec continues to drive “profitable growth,” a mantra from company earning calls that every employee in Erie and around the world needs to understand and take to heart.
Wabtec cannot grow profitably if its cost of operations is too high; Erie can’t either. If costs are too high, Erie won’t remain viable and will lose business to other Wabtec manufacturing centers across the U.S. and around the world. Similarly, our customers have to be able to depend on Wabtec’s ability to fulfill our commitments to them. We must come together as a team in Erie, and everywhere we service our customers, to be sure we are dependable – able to get our work done on schedule and in the high-quality fashion that our customers expect.
Just as flexibility and dependability are a two-way street, virtues that require both Wabtec workers and the company to each do their part, cost-competitiveness, too, is a shared responsibility. Wabtec must provide employees a fair, rewarding compensation package. Workers must understand the role their compensation plays in keeping Erie an attractive and viable manufacturing option for the world of opportunity ahead, one that can, if managed responsibly, keep Erie in the black – and demand for its services high.
An era of shared opportunity and responsibility lies ahead for Erie and Wabtec. In fact, it’s taking shape right now. This is not an open question, it’s a clear recognition that we need each other. Our best days are coming … if we understand and honor our commitments to each other.
Note: We’ll be exploring these themes further over the next several weeks and months here on Erie Forward and welcome your feedback and suggestions.